Author’s Note: The excerpt below marks ten thousand words of my novel! We are one-fifth of the way through this thing. That is incredibly exciting stuff. Thank you everyone who has stuck with me thus far!
“Hell of a first day.”
“I’ve had worse.”
Gwen looked back at the doors of the Wanderer, avoiding his eye.
“Somehow, I believe you. You kind of kicked arse back there.”
Carter’s smile faded. His neck was really starting to hurt where he had been hit.
“I screwed up, is what happened. One guy hospitalised, and I sucker punched that other guy in the gut. Didn’t even think. I hope he’s okay.”
Gwen made a dismissive noise, a sharp puff of air.
“He’ll be fine. Just looking for sympathy, as if he wasn’t trying to do exactly the same to you. You really did well to defuse that fight, though.”
Carter shook his head.
“People got hurt.”
“Only the idiots who were fighting anyway. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Jesus, Carter, you’re not the Doctor.”
Carter blinked. “Who?”
“Exactly.” When Carter looked even more confused, Gwen went on. “Doctor Who? The TV show? You’re not going to tell me you don’t watch TV, are you?”
Carter looked apologetic.
“Only the news.”
Gwen clapped her hands together, reaching a decision.
“Right. Well, if you’re going to stick around a while, I’ll have to show you Doctor Who. I need someone to talk to about it. No one in Fisherman’s Creek watches it.”
Carter scanned the crowd again, spotted Henry walking towards him, looking harried.
“Well, I think I’m about to find out if I’m going to be staying or not.”
Gwen winked at him.
“Don’t worry, I’ll fight to keep you around. Now that we’re Doctor Who buddies.”
Henry reached them, running a hand through his thick black hair absently.
“Well that was a fucking nightmare. He had no ambulance cover and all his mates were pissed. I just paid Ned Harvey forty bucks to drive the dickhead to hospital.”
“Hope you got a receipt for that.”
Henry opened the Wanderer’s door and ushered them inside.
“Fucking right I did. Sorry about all that, Carter.”
He locked the door behind them and followed them onto the Wanderer’s main floor, where he moved around behind the bar and grabbed three pint glasses.
“That’s fine, Henry. I’m sorry I made a mess of it.”
Henry paused in the middle of pouring a beer and looked at him, eyebrow raised.
“Are you kidding? You were great. When the third guy jumped in I thought for sure it was going to be a disaster.”
He finished pouring a second beer and handed it to Gwen. He held the third glass under the tap and looked at Carter inquisitively.
“Love one, thanks.”
Gwen drank deeply from her own beer, then snapped her fingers at Carter.
“Where’d you learn to do all that stuff, anyway? The way you grabbed the guy. It was very professional.”
Carter took the glass Henry handed him gratefully, and took a long drink, mostly to give him time to think of how best to answer the question.
“I’d rather not say, really. That’s not what my life is anymore.”
Henry nodded, fingers drumming on the bar.
“I respect that. Nowadays with all this Facebook crap, it’s a struggle to keep anything private.”
Gwen dropped into a chair at one of the tables.
“You’re not even on Facebook, Henry.”
“Exactly. Because I don’t feel like letting the world know every time I take a crap in the morning.”
“Okay, Carter. Starting pay is twenty dollars an hour. It would be more, but I’m just going to keep your rent rather than give it to you and have you pay me straight back. There’s no kitchen facilities upstairs, so you’ll have to keep all your groceries in the Wanderer’s kitchen. Just try to keep it clean. No pets, no smoking inside, and for fuck’s sake don’t let any cops or lawyers know I’m letting you live here, alright?”
“Thanks. I really appreciate it.”
Henry drained his beer; Gwen and Carter followed suit.
“Don’t mention it. Now that you’re moving in, that makes this technically a housewarming, so pass those glasses over. After the day we’ve had, drinks are on me.”
It was three hours later, and Carter was drunk.
They had each had a few beers, and then Gwen insisted they move onto shots. Carter, who had missed dinner and was already feeling quite tipsy by that point, agreed. By the end of the night, Henry was snoring gently in his chair, and Carter was pointedly jabbing his finger into the table for emphasis as he grilled Gwen on Fisherman’s Creek.
“Why did everyone keep telling me I couldn’t swim in the creek? Now, I’m not stupid-“
Carter slapped the table, almost knocking over the shot in front of him. He swore, then picked it up and downed it, to Gwen’s protest.
“Now I can’t spill it. See? I’m not stupid. I know I can’t swim in the creek. But why can’t I swim in the creek?”
“You’re so drunk.”
“Just because I’m intossicated, doesn’t mean it’s not a question.”
Gwen downed her own shot.
“There’s some kind of thermal spring thing up in the hills, apparently – I’ve never been up there – so the creek water is warm. Lots of idiot teenagers go swimming in it. But you shouldn’t, as a stranger. Some people in Fisherman’s Creek have a weird thing about it.”
Carter rubbed his chin. His eyelids were starting to get heavy. Beside him, Henry gave a start, looked around urgently, and then drifted back off to sleep.
“What kind of a weird thing?”
Gwen looked at him. She spun the shot glass idly on the table for a minute before answering.
“I suppose it’s sort of a religious thing? People think the creek is sacred or holy or something. I don’t know why. It’s just been that way as long as anyone remembers. Maybe when settlers first came here they thought the warm water was a miracle.”
She refilled her shot glass from the vodka bottle between them, emptying it.
“I don’t know why they would, though. It’s too warm for there to be very many fish. I think Fisherman’s Creek was an ironic name. Like a joke. Good farming land nearby, though, so some farms started up. Then they built a church, right near the creek, so they had somewhere to pray. And of course the farmers needed to buy things, so people came and opened shops near the church, and then the Wanderer opened so the people had a place to drink, and to capitalise on all the young vagrant farmhands coming in. And it became a town.”
Carter nodded, fighting to keep his eyes open.
“You know a lot about this place.”
Gwen was staring at the table, lost in her own world now.
“And the first priest here, whoever he was, kept on pushing that line about the warm creek water being some kind of miracle. People ate it up. I think they liked the thought of living near a miracle, even if it was a shit one, and easily explained.”
She looked up, finally registering what he’d said.
“Sorry. Yeah, I’ve done a lot of reading about it, I guess. It’s interesting. Which is weird, because the actual town isn’t that interesting, which is why I spend so much time watching TV and reading.”
She picked up the vodka bottle and walked it to the recycling bin behind the bar before returning to her seat. Henry snored.
“After a while, as far as anyone can tell, it just became part of the town’s culture. There’s some other stuff, but I think I’ll save that for later, because you need to go to bed.”
Carter shook his head, eyes closed now.
“No, no I don’t. I’m fine, and I want to know the other stuff.”
“Okay, but at the very least I need to take Henry home.”
Carter stood up, swaying slightly.
“I’ll help you walk him home.”
Gwen stood and walked over to Henry.
“No, it’s okay. It’s not the first time. Henry?”
She poked Henry gently. He started, then looked up at her, bleary-eyed.
“We gotta go, Henry. I’m going to walk you home.”
Henry stood slowly, rubbing his eyes.
“Right, okay. See you tomorrow, Carter.”
Henry clapped him on the shoulder.
“You’re a good guy. Glad to have you.”
Carter scratched his chin.
“No, Henry, you gave me a job and a place to sleep. You’re a good guy.”
Gwen rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, you’re both really good guys. Come on Henry, let’s go.”
She slipped her arm around Henry’s and walked him to the door.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Carter.”
Carter gave her a sloppy salute.
“See you tomorrow, Gwen. You’re a good guy too.”
She smiled at that.
“Thanks, Carter. Get some sleep.”
With that, they left, and Carter found himself standing alone on the floor of the Wanderer. He switched off the lights, paused, and then switched them on again. He made his way to the stairs, and switched on the staircase lights, before finally switching off the Wanderer’s main lights. He slowly climbed the stairs, stumbling slightly as he misjudged the top step, then swung around into the room Henry had said was his, dropping forcefully onto the bed. As he drifted off, a chaotic medley of parts of Gwen’s story danced in his head. The priest said it was a miracle. There’s no fish. Don’t swim in the creek. Finally, deep, drunken sleep came for him.
Don’t swim in the creek.
In the darkness behind Fisherman’s Creek’s church, Tobias and his men stood by the creek. After the fight at the Wanderer, Tobias had called for an impromptu prayer meeting. They had driven straight here, at Tobias’ direction, and come to the creek, where they had been standing for hours. No one would dare complain about sore feet or the cold, though. As Fisherman’s Creek’s spiritual leader, Tobias had their respect. As the appointed voice of the Fisher, he commanded their fear.
For the last few minutes they had stood in silence, deep in silent prayer, by Tobias’ command. He had told them to close their eyes and pray for the soul of their town, which Tobias said was in danger of being tarnished by tonight’s display. He had been solemn when speaking about the incident.
“Today was a disappointing day, my friends. An outside had to step in to stop a fight. Where have we gone astray, that we need this stranger to help us? We must remind our fragile youth that we settle our own disputes. It is dangerous to submit ourselves to the will of an outsider in this way. Especially so near harvest time.”
Marcus had one eye open, and was peering around at the other men. I didn’t submit to anyone, Tobias. It was you that submitted, shaking his hand, welcoming him. If we had shown our strength then-
He caught Tobias’ eye.